In France and Italy, the production sites of luxury brands are almost all located far from the big cities, almost as if producing luxury were a provincial affair: this is not by chance, but an exact strategic choice, based on particular pluses that a metropolis cannot give
Take note: in France, but also in Italy, the production sites of luxury brands are almost all located far from the big cities, almost as if producing luxury were a provincial affair. Randomness or strategy? The latter is because this choice is based on multiple motivations. After all, as we know, the giants of the sector never leave anything to chance.
Producing luxury is a provincial story
One example that immediately jumps out at you is that of Hermès. In 1996 it built a workshop in Seloncourt, in the Doubs département, and in 2016 it opened a new site 20 kilometres away in Héricourt (Haute-Saône). The same happened in the Puy-de-Dôme department: in 2004, the Maison set up its own leather goods workshop in Sayat, 10 kilometres from Clermont-Ferrand. Now it has announced the opening of a new site in Rion by 2024, with staff to be trained by experienced Sayat employees.
Another example: the town of Romans-sur-Isère, which has a long history of expertise in tanning and shoemaking and has attracted many of the workshops of the big luxury names. Franck Delpal (lecturer in Luxury Fashion Economics at the Institut Français de la Mode) claims that new production sites for leather goods were created ‘in areas away from the big urban centres’ in the 1990s when the designer labels began to record an extraordinary increase in sales (source: La Montagne).
For example, he says, ‘Aveyron and Limousin have outstanding cattle herds and tanneries on their territory. This France, far from urban centres, has the resources, skills, and know-how related to leather. That is why the production sites are located there. Leather goods and leather are the keys to luxury companies‘.
The examples of brands such as Hermès and places such as Romans-sur-Isère explain how luxury groups settle where they find not only the availability of competent human resources or a very focused willingness to learn a trade that can solve their life needs quickly. They find, in essence, a complete supply chain from a human, professional, and productive point of view. In these areas, as Delpal confirms, ‘wages are quite low compared to those in large urban centres. But the human resources prove to be effective in technical terms and efficient in economic terms’.
Not only that: they are substantially loyal to the company because they do not have or will have as many other job opportunities as in the big cities. “When you open a 250-job workshop in an area that has been abandoned and you hire women or men in their 50s because there are not many young people left in the region. These people will stay with the company until they retire. They will not leave you,’ explains Jean-Noël Kapferer, professor emeritus at the HEC in Paris and a specialist in the management of prestige and luxury brands.
Scent of authenticity
For Jérôme Fourquet, political scientist and director of IFOP’s Opinion and Corporate Strategies department, ‘the fact that products are made in the province gives them an extra touch of authenticity‘. There is also one last aspect to take into account. It is the golden patina that companies can boast of having fulfilled their corporate social responsibility mission because they keep their know-how where it is, helping to avoid the depopulation of rural centres.
In Italy, the situation is not very different from France, with many structured districts in the leather industry that have historically put down roots far from the large metropolises and urban centres. A modus operandi that France and Italy share in their luxury is the quality of their fashion production. (mv)
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